The Chithirai festival in Madurai is among the world’s longest annual celebrations (lasts for about a month).The two week long Chithirai Festival is one of the biggest celebrations in Madurai. It reanacts the wedding of Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Goddess Meenakshi (Lord Vishnu’s sister). History has it that this festival dates back four hundred centuries.Since then it has been a crowd puller and still is.
Meenakshi (also known as Meenatchi and Tadadakai) is a Hindu Goddess and tutelary deity of Madurai who is considered an avatar of the Goddess Parvati.She is the divine consort of Sundareswarar, a form of Shiva. She finds mention in literatures as the princess or queen of the ancient Pandya Kingdom who elevates to godhood.
The festival of Chithirai Thiruvizha is celebrated during the month of Chitirai (Tamil month) which falls in the month of April. The month long festival is one of the longest that the festivities are divided into two.
The first 15 days of the festival are in celebration of Goddess Meenakshi’s marriage. The remaining 15 days are celebrated for Alagar (A form of lord Mahavishnu).
The wedding of Meenakshi with Sundaraswarar (Lord Shiva) was to happen in Madurai. Alagar, the brother of Meenakshi, was invited. The Azhagar Hills near Madurai, where Lord Vishnu presides as Meenakshi’s older brother Azhagar (also known as Lord Kallazhagar) started on a 20 km journey from his abode at Alagar Hills towards Madurai.
Legend has it that Lord Kallazhagar travelled on a golden horse to participate in the celestial wedding of his sister Meenakshi. The dense forest of Alagar Hills delayed his journey . When he was crossing Vaigai river, unfortunately he learned that his sister’s wedding was over. This made him furious. To pacify, Meenakshi and Lord Shiva came to Vaigai river. He chose to give all the gifts that he carried, to Meenakshi and Sundaraswarar in a Mandapam in the middle of Vaigai river, and returned to Alagar Hill .
Goddess Meenakshi travels in Lion chariot and lord Sokhar in kalphavirushika vehicle around masi steet,Madurai to give darshan to her people.(first day)
Goddess Meenakshi travels in bhooda vaganum around masi steet,Madurai (second day).
Goddess Meenakshi travels in kamadhenuu vaganum around masi steet,Madurai (third day).
Princess Meenakshi gives darisanam to villapuram people (4th day) in paavarkai mandapam.
Princess Meenakshi returns Madurai in palaku kudhirai vaganam (chariot horse) (5th day).
Goddess Meenakshi in silver rishabha vaganam (bull ) and lord Sokhar in gold rishabha vaganum give darshan in masi street . Street plays and dances takes place (6th day).
During this event the chief priest of Meenakshi temple will hoist the holy flag on the Dwajasthambam (Flag post) of the temple. This event declares the long event open. The flag will stay on the flag post until the end of the festival.
Pattabisekam (8th day)
Pattabisekam is coronation ceremony. Meenakshi is crowned as the queen of Madurai on this day and she will rule the Pandya Kingdom for the next four months and after that her husband Lord Sunderaswarar will be crowned as the king of Madurai for the next eight months.
Dikvijayam (9th day)
After Goddess Meenakshi is crowned as the queen of Pandya kingdom she went into war with all the countries in the world and conquered the whole world and she went to Kailaayam (The Place of Lord Shiva in Himalayas) to conquer it. But, on seeing lord shiva on the battlefield she fell in love with him.
Meenakshi Tirukalyanam (10th day)
The traditional wedding of Meenakshi amman and Lord Shiva is celebrated in opulent style and grandeur. Inside the temple the idols of the Gods and Goddesses are decorated with beautiful silk clothes and floral garlands. On the day of Meenakshi Thirukalyanam the entire temple decorated as a bride. There are nearly 50 priests in the Meenakshi Madurai temple who perform the puja rituals and special prayers. The main priests in the temple perform the ritualistic wedding ceremonies. At the completion of the event, magnificent idols of Lord Sundareswarar and Goddess Meenakshi Amman are taken out in huge processions on the streets in the ‘Pushpa Pallakku’ and ‘Yaanai Vahanam’.
Chariot festival or Ther Tiruvizha or Rathotsavam is performed the day after Meenakshi kalyanam. The King and Queen of Pandya Kingdom Lord Sunderaswara and Meenakshi come to see their subjects in a well decorated chariot.
When Alagar enters Madurai city and the people of the city welcome him.On this day, Alagar change his appearance as Kallar (Kallar vedam) when he travels via Kallar Nadu and enters Madurai city and the people of the city welcome him.
Alagar Vaigai Elenthuarulal
After the holy marriage of Meenakshi, her brother tries to come to the marriage. Lord Alagar comes from Alagarkoil to Madurai slowly and by making couple of stops on the way. It is considered that when reaching the Vaigai river bank, he hears that marriage is over, so he gets angry and returns to Alagarkoil after giving the gifts to Meenakshi and sundereswarar and this event happens in a mandapam in the middle of river Vaigai.
The Chithirai festival is one of the most significant festivals of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It witnesses lakhs of people from all over the country as well as abroad each year. The devotees of the Shiava and the Vaishnava traditions have come together and kept their legends alive by performing them on an annual basis, providing the tales and their beliefs in a way never to be forgotten. The Chithirai festival is a most spectacular festival, which is an absolute delight to witness and become a part of kind.